The monochrome portrait of Che Guevara smoking a cigar remains one of the most popular photographs of the Argentine revolutionary and pop culture icon five decades later. As with another iconic portrait, Guevara's averted gaze from the camera made the shot interesting. Find out more about this influential photograph after the jump!
Five decades after Swiss photographer and Magnum member René Burri took it, the photograph of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara smoking a cigar remains one of the best known portraits of the Argentine revolutionary and cultural icon. Like Alberto Korda’s Guerrillero Heroico taken in 1960, Guevara’s gaze did not meet the photographer’s lens, but it lent an air of mystery that complemented his personality.
Burri never seems to tire of recounting his meeting with Che Guevara in 1963, on the eighth floor of the Hotel Riviera in Havana, Cuba, where he held office. The photographer went along with Look reporter Laura Bergquist, who managed to snag an interview with Guevara after meeting him at the UN in October 1962.
On being there to witness Che and Bergquist take on “a furious ideological dogfight” and take photos to boot, the Swiss photographer told The Guardian in 2010:
“At that time he was the number-two man in Cuba – he was the minister for industry, and director of the Banco Nacional. His face was on the two peso note. I saw the blinds were drawn and, after we were introduced, I asked him in French: ‘Che, can I open the blinds? I need some light.’ But he said no. I thought, well, it’s your face, not mine.
“For two and a half hours I could just dance around them with my camera. It was an incredible opportunity to shoot Che in all kinds of situations: smiling, furious, from the back, from the front. I used up eight rolls of film. He didn’t look at me once, he was so engaged with trying to convince her with maps and graphs. She was a chain-smoker, and he occasionally lit up one of his cigars.”
Then, some weeks ago, Burri told the story once more through a video interview with PORT Magazine, as well as the tales behind some of his other popular photographs. Watch the video below:
Our intention with the Influential Photographs series is not to glorify or demean the subject of the photo. Our intention with this column is to highlight the most influential analogue photographs of history. The photographs we feature are considered icons, for their composition, subject matter, or avant-garde artistic value.